Plans Coming Together for Airport Expansion

World Spectator Logo

Design concept drawing by Burns Maendel Consulting Engineers, Brandon

Sask Air Ambulance loading on Taxiway

Saskatchewan Air Ambulance loading on apron.

Aerial view of Apron and Taxiway

Aerial view terminal building, apron, taxiway, and runway.

Terminal Building

Terminal building, taxiway, and runway

Aerial View of New Runway Orientation

New runway orientation (32-14) North-West South-East

$1,242,700 committed to airport in total:

Plans coming together for airport expansion

by Rob Paul

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

With Jeff St. Onge and Dr. Schalk Van Der Merwe leading the charge, municipalities firmly behind the project, corporate and individual donations starting to come in, and support from the provincial government’s CAP Program, expansion of Marshall McLeod Airport is on its way.

So far, 14 municipalities (12 in Saskatchewan and two in Manitoba) have contributed $822,500 and corporate and private contributions add up to $145,200, including a $100,000 donation from Conexus last week.  That brings the total raised locally so far to $967,700.

The provincial government contributed $275,000 through the CAP program last year—the largest contribution the province made to any airport project in 2019. That provincial commitment brings the total for the airport expansion project to $1,242,700. There is an application in for another CAP grant this year.

David Horth of the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure says the province sees the value in community airports. “Community airports are important transportation infrastructure playing a key role in providing vital services like air ambulance, law enforcement, and wildfire fighting,” he said.

The airport expansion plan began in 2018 with a need for a rebuilt runway, lighting, and navigation equipment to accommodate the Saskatchewan Air Ambulance.

The need for the airport expansion became clear with the centralization of health services in Saskatchewan, with stroke services and pediatric services being centralized in Saskatoon.

With the only pediatric facility in the province, Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital, being located in Saskatoon it makes it difficult for time-efficient patient transfers for those under the age of 18.

Another major factor in having access to the Saskatchewan Air Ambulance is the world class stroke unit at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon.

“When you have a stroke, when the paramedics pick you up they don’t even triage you at a hospital, they drive you straight to Yorkton,” says St. Onge. “You’re assessed at Yorkton, then they drive you to Saskatoon.”

The difference in time it takes a ground ambulance and air ambulance to get to Saskatoon can be crucial. “An air ambulance can get to Saskatoon in 49 minutes while a ground ambulance can take four hours,” said St. Onge. “There are three ways of transporting patients—ground, helicopter and fixed wing. Right now we only have two options, ground and helicopter. We don’t have an option other than ground for Saskatoon. Our stroke patients and our pediatric patients have to get to Saskatoon, and Saskatchewan Air Ambulance is the only way to do that effectively.”

The Saskatchewan Air Ambulance was started in 1946.  It now transports over 1,500 patients per year (an average of five per day) and operates 365 days per year, 24/7.

Calm Air Flight TimesCalm Air flight times S.T.A.R.S. to Regina, Saskatchewan Air Ambulance to Saskatoon.

Above, a comparison of range, speed and load capacity between STARS and the Saskatchewan Air Ambulance.

Radius diagram Moosomin to SaskatoonAbove, Moosomin to Saskatoon is a 49 minute flight for the Saskatchewan Air Ambulance.

Saskatoon is the pediatric and stroke centre for Saskatchewan. Expansion of the Moosomin airport is expected to benefit the entire area with improved access to medical facilities in Saskatoon. As the diagram shows, Moosomin is as far away from Saskatoon as The Pas, Manitoba, Drumheller, Alberta or the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana.

Big impact
Jim Thompson, head of Saskatchewan Air Ambulance, said the improved airport would make a difference for everyone in a one hour radius of Moosomin.  St. Onge said the air ambulance being able to serve the area would have a big impact.  “This would impact 20,000 people,” said St. Onge.  Moosomin is located in the center of five airports, four of which are not easily accessible. The one accessible one is in Virden, Manitoba, 65 kilometers further from provincial hospitals.

12,000 people utilize the Southeast Integrated Care Centre, but with no paved airport nearby it makes patient transfers difficult.  “The airport just doesn’t work for the Air Ambulance,” said St. Onge. “There are no lights. We are down to a 50 per cent availability runway because it is dark half the time.” The softness of the gravel runway has also caused problems. “Snow and rain can cause problems, so we have 20 per cent availability here, and that is nowhere near enough for it to be consistently used.”

Engineered Plan ViewThe new runway will run northwest-southeast in line with the prevailing winds, and an access road, taxiway, and apron will be built on the road allowance on which the current runway is built.

Fundraising continues
The fundraising efforts continue for the airport expansion, but as of now there’s no finalized number on how much it could cost.

“As of today we do not have a final number on the total cost of the airport,” said Kendra Lawrence, RM of Moosomin administrator. “That will come once the 66 per cent design is completed by Burns Maendel. So we’re hoping in the next few weeks we’ll see where that number actually is.

St. Onge said now that design is well advanced, the committee will be looking for more corporate and individual contributions to help make the plans a reality.

“We’re looking at major fundraising kickoff pretty much today,” he said.

With Conexus recently contributing $100,000 to the effort, it takes the current grand total of funds raised locally to $967,700, and the 2019/2020 Community Airport Partnership (CAP) funding approved for $275,000 in on top of that.

St. Onge says the provincial government is impressed with the local support for the project.

“When I was speaking to somebody from the ministry they said it was absolutely unheard of to have that level of buy in on a CAP application,” said St. Onge.

The CAP program provides funding to community-owned airports in Saskatchewan.

According to the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure, the $275,000 the airport expansion project received from the CAP program is the maximum annual allowable contribution.

“Almost $7 million has been invested in community airports since 2007 and coupled with 50-50 matching community contributions the program has generated $14 million in airport rehabilitation,” according the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure.

The committee has also applied for a 2020/2021 CAP grant. Airports can submit
applications for this year’s CAP allowance until March 20.

“A review panel will review these applications and recommend which eligible airports should receive funding,” said the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure. “Successful applicants are usually notified
in the Spring.”

A total of 36 different communities have benefited from the program since 2007 according to the Ministry.

Strong buy-in
So far 14 municipalities have contributed to the expansion, including two in Manitoba.

“Every municipality has bought in to some degree,” said Lawrence. “There are some municipalities that didn’t contribute funds but gave us a letter of support behind the project for the CAP application.

The 14 municipalities have raised $822,500 thus far.

Economic impact
Although the health aspect is the major factor with the airport improvements, it is projected to have a major economic impact.

“The health impact is number one,” says RM of Moosomin Reeve David Moffatt. “But what this would bring to the community in terms of economic development and benefits for the businesses in the community is huge. The health impact is very, very important, but there is even more to it than that.”

“It will bring in $2.4 million worth of economic value to the area per year,” said St. Onge.

“And that was from a 2002 ministry evaluation of how much economic benefit a community receives from an airport, translated into 2018 dollars.”

The financial gain comes from business traffic/opportunities. Traffic from Air Ambulance, STARS, charters, police aircraft, search and rescue, business planes/jets, agribusiness aircraft, etc.

“Aviation is an important part of the economy, creating more than 15,000 jobs in Saskatchewan,” according to the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure.

The airport committee has been working with Burns Maendel Consulting Engineering Ltd. since August. Burns Maendel, based in Brandon, has already done soil samples of the runway area.

As of now the land for the new runway has not been purchased, but an intent to purchase has been signed.

The airport is located one mile northeast of Moosomin and the runway will be realigned Northwest to Southeast with prevailing winds. A new access road will be developed on a road allowance south of the current airport. The plan is for a 5,000 foot runway with a taxiway, apron, threshold lighting, Transportation Canada Area Navigation (RNAV), and Automated Weather Observation Services (AWOS). Along with the new airport will be improved fueling equipment.

The navigation side has a two-year window for approval so there’s a need to apply now to be certified.

“We need to be ahead of the game or what ends up happening is you pave this beautiful runway and nobody can come in for two years because you don’t have a certified approach,” said St. Onge.

“There are a lot of balls are in the air at once and a lot of things have been happening, but from the outside looking in it doesn’t look like anything has happened.”

In terms of time frame on the project the committee has an idea of when the airport could be up and running.

“There are a number of things we need to do,” says Moffatt. “We need to trigger the CAP grant coming up, and once we have some numbers from the engineers we can nail down the best way to do that.”

The committee expects fully engineered drawings and moving some earth and placing aggregate by Summer 2020, and putting down pavement by 2021.

“It’s very exciting to see the support and the people coming together,” said St. Onge. “It’s one thing to have an idea but when others take it and run with it, it’s very exciting to see.”

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